Monday, October 1, 2018

History of the May Festival


This month, 90.9 WGUC presents the 2018 May Festival season Sunday evenings at 8pm. 2018 marked the May Festival’s return to Cincinnati’s historic Music Hall following an extensive renovation. It also celebrated the beginning of a new era for the May Festival, under the baton of newly-appointed Principal Conductor Juanjo Mena.

The Cincinnati May Festival was founded in 1873 and is one of the oldest and most prestigious choral festivals in the Western Hemisphere. Their annual festival consists of two weekends of outstanding concerts backed by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and internationally-acclaimed guest artists. Highlights from this season include Eun Sun Kim’s May Festival debut leading Verdi’s powerful Requiem, a celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s centennial year with performances of Mass and Chichester Psalms, and a collaboration with a Cincinnati community choir in Handel’s iconic Messiah. See below for a complete broadcast schedule.

Did you know that in the mid-1800s, German immigrants who resided in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine community had a deep appreciation for the arts? They ended up forming singing groups and invited similar choirs in nearby towns to join them in a song festival. This eventually grew to be an annual gathering that took place in various Midwest cities. In 1870 when it was Cincinnati’s turn to host, it was decided that Saenger Hall would be built as a temporary structure to house the festival. This building was constructed where Music Hall now stands but was not an ideal setting for the festival since it was built with a tin roof!

In 1873, renowned conductor Theodore Thomas happened to be traveling through Cincinnati on tour with his New York-based orchestra and noticed that the city’s residents had great musical potential. He decided to work with local arts-advocates Maria Longworth Nichols and George Ward Nichols to create a large music festival that wasn’t tied ethnically to the current “Saengerfest” held at Saenger Hall. This was the beginning of the May Festival. It started as a 108-piece orchestra and 800-person choir that came together biannually, and eventually sparked the building of Music Hall in place of Saenger Hall, in order to provide a better facility for the festival. The third May Festival was the first to take place inside the new Music Hall in 1878. At the time, it was the largest concert hall in America.

Since the May Festival’s conception, it has remained one of the nation’s most eminent choral festivals, attracting internationally-acclaimed artists to join them in their annual performances. Be sure to tune to 90.9 Sunday evenings at 8pm all month long to hear Cincinnati’s very own May Festival Chorus.
May Festival 2018 Broadcast Schedule


Sunday, October 7, 8:00 PM (Performance Date: May 18)
Eun Sun Kim, conductor; Michelle Bradley, soprano; Ekaterina Semenchuk, mezzo-soprano; Bryan Hymel, tenor; May Festival Chorus, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

VERDI: Requiem Mass

Sunday, October 14, 8:00 PM (Performance Date: May 19)
Robert Porco, conductor; Kevin Vortmann, celebrant; May Festival Chorus; Cincinnati Children’s Choir; Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

BERNSTEIN: Mass

Sunday, October 21, 8:00 PM (Performance Date: May 25)
Juanjo Mena, conductor; John Holiday, countertenor; May Festival Chorus; Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

GABRIELI: Magnificat
BERNSTEIN: Chichester Psalms
RAVEL: Daphnis et Chloé [complete ballet]





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